Over the last three weeks, I have heard no fewer than six people utter some derivation of the following: "The proliferation of [insert name of social media platform here] allows everyone to be a journalist." This is not a new concept, but it's the frequency with which it is repeated that has piqued my interest.
Each time I hear it, I cringe. I react this way not just because it is an insult to good journalists everywhere, but it is a clear indication about how we as a society have come to view journalism.
With respect to this topic I think the most important distinction that we can draw is between experiential observation and actual journalism. Sharing your experiences via Twitter, updating your status on LinkedIn, or sharing how intense you six mile run was on Facebook does not constitute journalism. I would even make the argument that real time video of a demonstration or a revolution in progress is interesting and even impactful, but it is still not journalism.
Here's the rub: If you claim to be journalist, you have responsibility for what you share. You have to be accurate. You have to be thorough. You have to be well-researched. Case in point, in the hours following the revelation that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, the Twitterverse was inundated by quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, Aristotle and Mark Twain most of which were incorrectly attributed.
Now, cynics will make the argument that some of the very journalists I am defending actually reported on these quotes with the misattributions. And that is unfortunate. But I also believe that the vast majority of journalists work hard to be both thorough and correct. Pressured by the real time demands of our social media paradise, mistakes are made.
Next time you tweet, like or connect, remember that you are relating the reality of your surroundings, your opinion or your whereabouts. Nothing more. Until you've pushed up against a deadline, fought an editor to keep your story above the fold, or poured your heart and soul into 1200 words of investigative reporting, you are not a journalist.
Next time you pick up a newspaper or a magazine, read the byline. Recognize that a person or persons crafted those words in a specific way to enlighten you, the reader. There is art and science behind their craft, and we should not forget that.